The Mystery of Human Existence Lies Not In Just Staying Alive, But In Finding Something To Live For

Fyodor Dostoevsky? Andrew H. MacAndrew? Constance Garnett? Max Tegmark? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky contended that simply staying alive would not make a person content. A person must find something to live for. Strictly speaking, this viewpoint was articulated by a character in a story by Dostoevsky and not by Dostoevsky himself. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky appeared in 1880. A crucial chapter of the book called “The Grand Inquisitor” is sometimes published as a freestanding work. The Imaginative scenario in the chapter depicts the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition confronting a Christ-like figure. The following passage is from a translation into English by Andrew H. MacAndrew. Boldface has been added: 1

This is something about which You were right. For the mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for. Without a concrete idea of what he is living for, man would refuse to live, would rather exterminate himself than remain on this earth, even if bread were scattered all around him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1981, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Translated by Andrew H. MacAndrew, Translation Copyright 1970, Book V: Pro and Contra, Chapter 5: The Grand Inquisitor, Quote Page 306 and 307, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)